Archive for the Pickin’ the Carcass Category

Pickin’ the Carcass: THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012)

Posted in 2013, Bad Situations, Madness, Michael Arruda Reviews, Pickin' the Carcass, Thrillers with tags , , , on July 12, 2013 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda


Because word-of-mouth on THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (2012) was so bad, I kept away from this one upon its initial release.  But like all true horror movie fans, I want to see everything, good or bad, and so I caught up with THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET on streaming video the other night.

While I didn’t love it, there were a few things about it that I found pleasantly surprising. 

Teenager Elissa (Jennifer Lawrence) and her single mom Sarah (Elisabeth Shue) move into a new home to start a fresh chapter in their lives.  No, no!  This is a horror movie!  Don’t move in!  Go somewhere else!  Actually, their house isn’t the titled house at the end of the street, nor is this really a horror movie, but still, they’re in for some trouble in their new home, as if we couldn’t figure this out. 

They learn that the entire neighborhood shuns the house at the end of their street because years before a young girl had murdered her parents there.  After the murder, the girl disappeared, and legend has it she still lives in the woods.  Ooohh!!   Creepy!  Strangely, the brother, Ryan (Max Thieriot), now in college, remains in the house. 

Elissa is a rather rebellious teenager, and she and her mom don’t really get along.  Against her mom’s wishes, Elissa strikes up a friendship with Ryan, which isn’t hard for her to do, since Ryan comes off as a really nice guy, a bit quiet and introspective, but nice all the same, and the rest of the people her own age she meets are pretty much complete jerks.

Sarah relays her fears about Ryan to the town sheriff, Weaver (Gil Bellows), the one sensible person living in the community.  Weaver tells Sarah that Ryan is all right, that the folks in town have given him a hard time, and that he hasn’t given the police any trouble since he’s lived in the house.

But this is a thriller after all, and so it turns out that Ryan isn’t what he seems. Just what has weird-boy Ryan been up to, you ask?  It seems he’s keeping his sister Carrie Anne prisoner in the basement of his house, or at the very least he’s giving her food and shelter and keeping her hidden from the authorities.  Nah, that sounds too good.  It’s actually much more sinister than that.  You see, his sister suffered a brain injury as a child, and so she’s mentally challenged, which means in order for Ryan to keep her there, he really does have to treat her like a prisoner.  She’s locked in a basement. She’s not exactly hiding out in a plush bedroom with all the amenities.

And yes, everyone once in a while, Carrie Anne escapes, and Ryan has to pursue her into the woods to bring her back.

Now, this revelation comes early in the movie, and so this isn’t exactly a plot spoiler, especially when there are more twists to come.  As Elissa grows closer to Ryan, against her mother’s wishes, things get complicated because THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET isn’t finished with its twists and plot revelations yet.   Elissa, you might want rethink those dating plans with Ryan.  He’s got some issues.

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is a well-acted thriller that tells a solid story until the very end when it loses its way with some revelations that aren’t as shocking as they’re intended to be.  But for the most part, I enjoyed this movie, especially since I expected little from it.

Jennifer Lawrence is very good as Elissa.  While her portrayal a of moody teen isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, I like Lawrence a lot, and at this point pretty much enjoy anything she’s in. 

Elisabeth Shue is just as good as Sarah, and she delivers a very sincere performance as a single mom trying to make things work with her rebellious teenage daughter.  Her frustrations over the challenging process of connecting with her teen daughter come off as genuine.

One problem I did have however with Shue and Lawrence was I had trouble seeing these two as mother and daughter. They don’t resemble each other at all, nor did they share similar personalities.  I didn’t really buy them as mother and daughter.

Max Thieriot turns in a decent performance as Ryan.  He’s sufficiently odd and quirky, yet he also comes off as sincere and likable.  I believed that Elissa would be attracted to him.  Likewise, Gil Bellows is agreeable as Weaver, the sheriff, who represents the voice of reason inside a community where reasonable people don’t seem to live. 

As a drama, THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET works, and for 2/3 of this movie, I was really into it.  Where it stumbles is as a thriller.  Director Mark Tonderai forgot to give this one an edge.  The expected thrills and chills don’t come until late in the game, and they’re not very effective as they’re rather shallow and superficial.

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is not much of a scary movie.  It’s certainly not a horror movie.

The screenplay by David Loucka is mediocre.  It does a nice job creating affable characters, it presents a somewhat intriguing story, but it all becomes rather routine towards the end.  Had the story been darker and more sinister throughout, then perhaps the twists at the end would have worked better.  As it stands, they don’t seem to fit with the rest of the movie.

Loucka also wrote the screenplay to another “haunted house” thriller DREAM HOUSE (2011) starring Daniel Craig, which was pretty bad.  Like THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, DREAM HOUSE also had a dark revelation midway through the movie, and then added more twists later.  THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is a step up in terms of drama, but the horror elements in both movies are very weak.

As a result, THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET is a mixed bag.  On the one hand, actors Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue deliver compelling likeable performances, leading a decent cast that does the same, and they’re taking part in a story that isn’t half bad.  But on the other hand, the expected thrills don’t really come until the end of the movie, and for the most part, they run hollow and superficial, because really, I never really felt that the Jennifer Lawrence character was in true danger.  Why not?  Because the threat in this one is never clearly defined.  Just what exactly should these characters be afraid of?  You don’t really find out until the very end.  That’s way too late in my book.

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET plays like a dark drama, and as such, is somewhat likeable.  But it’s not a horror movie, and even to call it a thriller is a reach. 

I give it two and a half knives.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda


Pickin’ the Carcass: THE PACT (2012)

Posted in 2013, Family Secrets, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, Horror, Indie Horror, Michael Arruda Reviews, Pickin' the Carcass, Psychic Powers with tags , , , , , , , on May 8, 2013 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda

The Pact - poster

Welcome to PICKIN’ THE CARCASS, that column where we scour the countryside looking for horror movie gems which, for one reason or other, we missed the first time around.  Sadly, there’s usually a good reason we miss these flicks during their first run, but lately I’ve had some luck as I’ve caught films that I’ve actually enjoyed.

The subject of today’s column, THE PACT (2012) ,gets off to such a strong start and features such likable performances, I found myself forgiving all the problems its plot runs into later on.

THE PACT, now available on Streaming Video, opens with a young woman, Nichole (Agnes Bruckner), on the phone trying to convince her sister that she needs to return home to attend their mother’s funeral, but her sister says no, that she hasn’t forgiven their mother for all the awful things she did to them.

Nichole is alone in her deceased mom’s home, and shortly after hearing some strange noises and feeling an unseen presence behind her, she decides to Skype her young daughter who’s with a babysitter.  In the middle of the conversation, her young daughter asks, “Mommy, who’s that standing behind you?”  Yikes!

Nichole’s sister, Annie (Caity Lotz), changes her mind about skipping her mom’s funeral, and she arrives at her mom’s house to find that her sister has disappeared.  Annie’s cousin, Liz (Kathleen Rose Perkins), had been babysitting Nichole’s young daughter, and after the funeral, they all stay overnight at Annie’s mom’s house while they try to figure out what happened to Nichole.  That night, there are more eerie noises and strange going’s on, and Liz disappears.

Annie goes to the police, and since there is evidence of a struggle, she finds herself a suspect in both disappearances.  A local police officer, Bill Creek (Casper Van Dien), takes an interest in her case and offers to help her.  However, Annie suspects the real threat is a supernatural one, and so she turns to a medium, Stevie (Haley Hudson), who comes to the house with her assistant, Giles (Sam Ball).

Annie, Stevie, and Giles encounter more weird happenings inside the house and discover a secret room hidden behind the walls of the home.  Stevie is able to shed some light on the entity inside the house and provides Annie with some important clues regarding the whereabouts of Nichole and Liz.  But the biggest discovery comes later, when Annie realizes the threat against her and her family isn’t just a paranormal one.

There’s a lot to like about THE PACT, from its story, which is more than just a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY rehash, to its strong acting performances, to a bang up directorial effort by writer/director Nicholas McCarthy.

THE PACT contains a lot of cool scenes and provides some neat images, like the creepy man sobbing on the edge of a bed.  There are some violent sequences as well, including a gruesome stabbing scene, and the gore looks real.  There’s no CGI blood in sight.

The film opens in such spine-chilling fashion, the unsettling feeling it instills at the outset remained with me throughout.  When Nichole finds herself alone in her mother’s house, the film resembles the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and does so again when the sinister force inside the house abducts Liz.  But the fun part here is that there’s more to this story than just evil spirits.  On the other hand, the details don’t always make sense, and this comes back to bite the film later.

The cast is excellent.  Caity Lotz is terrific as Annie.  She’s feisty, strong, and very sexy.  She makes a formidable adversary for the threats which occupy her mom’s house.  Casper Van Dien is also very good as Bill Creek, the police officer who helps Annie investigate her sister’s disappearance.  Their scenes together are particularly enjoyable to watch as they share some nice onscreen chemistry.

Agnes Bruckner makes the most of her brief screen time as Nichole, and Kathleen Rose Perkins is also excellent as Annie’s cousin Liz.

But my favorite supporting performance belongs to Haley Hudson as the medium Stevie. The first time we meet her, she’s in this oddball household full of unceasing background noise, as TVs and rock music blare constantly.  She’s quirky yet sincere, and so she comes off as very believable.  And Sam Ball is nearly as good as Stevie’s friend and assistant Giles, who’s just as peculiar as she is.

And THE PACT packs some serious eye candy.    Caity Lotz is striking and spends much of the movie in short shorts and sexy T-shirts.   The other three actresses, Agnes Bruckner, Kathleen Rose Perkins, and Haley Hudson, are just as stunning.

And if you’re a female viewer, you’ve got Casper Van Dien and Sam Ball, two very good looking actors.  This flick is very easy on the eyes.

I liked that the story aimed high and tried to be more than just your typical paranormal entity tale.  It gets an A for effort.  Where it falters is in the details.

For instance, at one point in the movie, the ghost physically attacks Annie, which I’m not sure ghosts can do, but this raises a question about the entire premise of the movie.  If this ghost can physically attack human beings, then in light of what the film reveals later on, the question has to be asked, why didn’t the ghost simply tackle the other threat in the story on its own?  Why did it need a human being’s help?

I also didn’t like the very ending of the movie.  For it to make sense, one would have to surmise that there is yet another threat inside the house not revealed in the movie.  I found this notion difficult to swallow.  As it stands now, it plays like one of those endings where something creepy is added on simply to give the film an eerie conclusion, as opposed to a logical progression of the story.

Overall, once the movie starts putting the pieces of its puzzle together, it does so with too much obscurity, and so instead of sitting back and enjoying the ride, I found myself asking a lot of questions, which ultimately got in the way of my enjoying the movie.  What really becomes of Nichole and Liz?  You pretty much know, but you don’t really know.  What does the “pact” from the title refer to?  I can guess, but I’d rather know.  Just how abusive was Annie’s and Nichole’s mother?  What about that creepy hidden room in the middle of the house?  How come no one ever noticed it before?  And just how much did Annie’s mother know about what was going on inside her house?

I would have enjoyed the movie more if its second half provided clearer answers.

So, ultimately, the screenplay by director Nicholas McCarthy is a mixed bag.  It provides a compelling story, but it doesn’t always make good on getting the details right.  But it gets the scares right, and on that note, THE PACT delivers.

I give it two and a half knives.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE PACT ~ two and a half knives!

Pickin’ the Carcass Visits THE RIG (2010)

Posted in 2013, B-Movies, Just Plain Fun, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Pickin' the Carcass with tags , , , , , on February 27, 2013 by knifefighter

By Michel Arruda

 The Rig movie poster

I’ve said it many times before but it’s true:  I’m a sucker for monster movies, and so today’s PICKIN’ THE CARCASS feature, THE RIG (2010), in spite of the fact that it’s a clear rip-off of the ALIEN formula, won me over.  It’s actually a pretty fun movie, worth checking out as long as you’re not expecting something original.

THE RIG takes place on an oil rig—so that’s where they got the title! —that’s suddenly in the path of a raging hurricane.  The head of the crew, Jim Fleming (William Forsythe) orders the bulk of the crew to evacuate temporarily, leaving just a skeleton crew on board until after the dangerous storm passes.

Hmm.  A hurricane raging all around, a few crew members trapped on a hulking oil rig in the middle of the ocean, I wonder what would happen if a man-eating monster showed up and decided to prey upon the unsuspecting crew?  Sounds like the formula for a good old-fashioned monster movie, which, in effect, is exactly what THE RIG is, a throwback to monster movies like ALIEN (1979) and THE THING (1982).

Is it as good as those movies? No way!  But it remains true to its traditions, and on this level, it succeeds.

So, yes, a monster does show up to wreak havoc amongst the skeleton crew.  That’s because the film opens with an undersea camera poking around the depths of the ocean, only to be destroyed by some unknown aquatic presence.  This thing later climbs on board the rig, a la the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  It’s obviously not happy with the results of its photo shoot and is seeking a re-take. Actually, it’s just a hungry beast that likes to eat humans.

On the rig, we have our cliché-ridden cast of characters, but what makes these folks enjoyable is the actors who play them actually do a decent job.  The head of the rig, Jim Fleming is busy contending not only with the storm but with his adult daughter Carey (Serah D’Laine) who’s in love with one of the oil men, Kyle Dobbs (Scott Martin).  Jim just doesn’t want his daughter involved with an oil man.  He wants more for his little girl.  Gag.  Yep, you can see this storyline coming a mile away, and it’s something we’ve seen a million times before, but luckily the movie doesn’t spend too much time on this plot point.  The bulk of the time is fortunately spent on the monster story.

Then there’s Freddy Brewer (Stacey Hinnen), the tough-as-nails rig worker who’s enjoying a fling of his own, with his hot co-worker, Rodriguez (Carmen Perez).  Freddy is also dealing with his younger brother who has requested to get off the rig because he’s tired of living in his older brother’s shadow.

Fortunately, all these stories go away once the monster shows up and starts feasting on human flesh. Once that happens, the remainder of the crew bands together and fights for survival, hoping to survive long enough for the storm to pass, so they can either get off the rig or have help arrive.

As I said, THE RIG isn’t going to earn any points for originality.  Its best scenes we’ve seen before in films like ALIEN and THE THING, but because it handles these scenes well, it still manages to entertain.

Probably my favorite part of THE RIG is that director Peter Atencio chose not to use CGI effects for the monster.  Instead, he uses an old-fashioned man in a suit, which once seen isn’t anything to brag about, but for the bulk of the film, director Atencio goes with the “less seen the better” philosophy, and it works.

Most of the creature scenes feature quick snippets of the monster, and so for the majority of the movie, you don’t see the creature, and this style works.  It’s scarier wondering just what exactly is around that dark corner, as opposed to seeing some fake-looking CGI creation that imbues no reality whatsoever.  So, for the most part, the creature scenes in this movie are effective.  Sure, towards the end, when we see more of the beast, it’s a bit of a disappointment, but it’s still better than a cartoony CGI beasty.

The cast also acquits itself well.  William Forsythe is solid as oil boss Jim Fleming.  Sure, he must have been fighting not to throw up as he delivered some of his cliché-ridden lines, but he really makes for a believable oil rig chief.

Forsythe is a veteran actor who’s been in a ton of movies.  I remember him most from way back when, with his performance in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984) where he co-starred with Robert De Niro.  He was also memorable more recently in the awful HALLOWEEN (2007) remake.

Stacey Hinnen is also very good as Freddy, the tough guy, who becomes the “go to” guy once the creature shows up.  Serah D’Laine is okay as Jim’s daughter Carey.  She runs hot and cold, and she’s certainly no Sigourney Weaver.  Carmen Peres fares better as Rodriguez, in a supporting role.

Probably the weakest link of the main cast is Scott Martin as Serah’s boyfriend Kyle.  When it comes to tough guy heroes, he’s more Michael Biehn than Kurt Russell.  I’d rather have Kurt Russell.

The weakest part of the movie, no doubt, is the screenplay by Scott Martin—yep, the same guy who also plays Kyle in this one—Mariliee A. Benson, Lori Chavez, and C.W. Fallin, which is full of one cliché after another, some really bad dialogue, and characters so familiar they seem like family members.  Yet, in a strange way, it works, because it gets the monster stuff right, and since this is a monster movie after all, if you’re going to get something right, it might as well be the monster story.

When you come right down to it, THE RIG plays like a 1950s B movie, and for those of us who love monster movies, this isn’t a bad thing.

THE RIG offers some good old-fashioned monster movie fun, which as long as you’re not expecting anything new, provides a decent enough diversion for 90 minutes to make it worthwhile.

I give it two and a half knives.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE RIG ~ two and a half knives!

Pickin’ the Carcass: WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bad Acting, CGI, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Pickin' the Carcass, Straight to Video, Werewolf Movies, Werewolves with tags , , , , , , on November 23, 2012 by knifefighter

Pickin’ the Carcass:
By Michael Arruda


 WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US (2012) is a direct-to-video release. No surprise then that we’re not talking “must-see horror” here. Still, the film’s not a total loss. I’m always up for an old-fashioned monster movie, and since this is the story of a murderous werewolf on the prowl, there were things I liked about it.

In WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US, a 19th century village—we never learn where—is terrorized by a werewolf. A group of expert werewolf hunters led by a guy named Charles (Ed Quinn), who looks and sounds as if he just left the Alamo, descend upon the village to hunt down the vicious beast.

The hunters are aided by a young man, Daniel (Guy Wilson), who works as an assistant to the village doctor (Stephen Rea). Daniel is mostly interested in hunting down the werewolf in order to protect his girlfriend, Eva (Rachel DiPillo). These hunters spend a lot of time setting elaborate werewolf traps in the woods, whereas they might have been better served interviewing the locals, since werewolves, after all, are people when the moon isn’t full.

Anyway, this is one of those movies where we don’t know who the werewolf is at first, but then, when they make the revelation, the werewolf turns out to be—well, I won’t give it away, but I will say that it’s not much of a surprise.

There are the obligatory battles between the hunters and the werewolf, and there’s even—in the film’s lowest point for me—a vampire who shows up to join in on the fun. He should have stayed home.

Released by Universal, WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US (2012)tries to capture the feel of the old Universal monster movies. It fails, mostly because its script isn’t strong enough to recapture the mood of those golden oldies. It’s not a total disaster. In terms of more recent movies, it’s better than VAN HELSING (2004), but it’s nowhere near as good as THE WOLFMAN (2010) remake.

The story itself is likeable enough, but the screenplay by Michael Tabb, Catherine Cyran, and director Louis Morneau, has too many problems for it to be successful. For starters, the story presents us with a wild group of eclectic werewolf hunters. These guys should dominate this movie, but they don’t. They’re not fleshed out at all, which is a shame, because they could have had a Marvel AVENGERS thing going. Instead, they’re just a bunch of folks with different weapons, aiming to kill a werewolf.

One of the hunters I did like, Kazia (Ana Ularu), the only woman hunter of the group, isn’t in the movie enough to make that much of a difference.

The dialogue is pretty awful. It shouldn’t be assumed that it’s okay for a monster movie to have forced, cliché-ridden dialogue. Had this movie enjoyed some realistic dialogue, it could have been taken seriously.

Director Louis Morneau does a nice job making this movie look polished and slick, but on the other hand, it’s in desperate need of some memorable scenes. WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US definitely lacks an identity.

And for the majority of the werewolf scenes, Morneau uses a CGI werewolf. Nuff said about that!

There’s actually some decent blood and gore in this one, some of it not that fake-looking. I was almost impressed.

The cast was OK. Stephen Rea is fine as Doc for most of the movie, but sadly, in the film’s conclusion, he’s given some of the worst dialogue in the entire film, when he gets to talk to the werewolf, saying things like, “Kill her!” and “If you don’t, I will!”

Ed Quinn is okay as Charles, the lead werewolf hunter, even though he sounds like he belongs in a western. Guy Wilson as young Daniel, who’s really the central character in this movie, runs hot and cold. In certain scenes, he’s fine, but in others, especially where he has to display emotion, not so much. The same can be said for Rachel DiPillo as his girlfriend, Eva.

Again, I did like Ana Ularu as werewolf hunter Kazia, and I wish she were in the movie more.

I’m a sucker for monster movies, and since this one’s not awful, I didn’t hate it. I just kept hoping—pleading, really—that it would be better.

I kept thinking, why didn’t they work more on the script? Why not write an “A” script for a monster movie? This movie would have rocked with a stronger script! Why settle for less? A little thought would have gone a long way in making WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US more interesting.

For example, we have this group of werewolf hunters coming into town. Why? Why are they killing werewolves? Are they doing it just for kicks? Do they get their jollies killing werewolves? Where did they come from? How did they get together? And if they’re not doing it for fun, then they must be doing it for money. Who in the village is paying them? Simple details like this build strong stories. Are these hunters like THE SEVEN SAMARAI? What’s their story?

WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US also lacks a strong werewolf. Werewolves make for interesting characters. They are full of conflict. Just ask Larry Talbot. But this movie doesn’t offer us any one like Talbot. The story tries but never gets beyond the superficial. It never gets inside the werewolf’s head.

All of this is too bad, because WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US looks great and features an old-fashioned monster story that, with just a little more care behind it, could have been a lot better. As it stands, WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US is merely a minor, mediocre monster movie that never burns as bright as a full moon should.

I give it two knives.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US ~ two knives!

Pickin’ the Carcass: RED STATE (2011)

Posted in 2012, Michael Arruda Reviews, Pickin' the Carcass, Religious Cults, Twist Endings with tags , , , , , on August 10, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda


Welcome to PICKIN’ THE CARCASS, that column where we catch up with recent horror releases missed the first time around.  Sadly, most of the time, there’s a good reason these films were missed the first time around.  They’re not very good.

However, today, good news!  At long last, I’ve found a CARCASS morsel well worth the wait, and that morsel is RED STATE (2011), the action thriller by writer director Kevin Smith.

RED STATE tells its story in three parts.  The first part follows three teenage boys (Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, and Nicholas Braun) as they answer a sex ad from a woman who promises to have sex with them.  This first segment is light and funny, and you almost get the feeling you’re being set up for a teen sex comedy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

That’s because the woman drugs the boys, which leads to the second segment of the film, and this is where the horror sets in.  The boys awake to find themselves held hostage by an ultra-right wing church known as the Five Points Church.  This church, supposedly so far to the right that even neo-Nazi groups distance themselves from them, is led by the charismatic but crazy Abin Cooper (Michael Parks).  The boys witness Cooper and his congregation execute a gay man in the church.  Up next are the teens themselves.

Following a tip from the local sheriff, armed ATF agents led by Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) surround the Five Points Church compound, which brings us to the third segment of the film, the armed confrontation between the ATF agents and the church members, who are sitting on an arsenal full of assault weapons.

Eventually, all hell breaks loose, and there is a massive shoot-out, which leads to a clever ending that for several moments will have you scratching your head wondering just what the hell is going on.  I won’t give anything away, but I will say the ending to the movie is somehow both depressing and satisfying.

RED STATE was written and directed by Kevin Smith, an actor, writer, and director mostly known for his comedies.  (ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008) and JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001), for example).  RED STATE is not a comedy, and I almost thought it was going to be played for laughs considering Smith’s involvement.  But it’s not funny, not in the least.

Far from it, RED STATE is a grim realistic tale that works because it is firmly rooted in truth.  The points this movie makes reflect disturbing trends in our society that, like it or not, exist.  And it’s scary because as outlandish and as exaggerated as things may seem, it’s still realistic.  A church congregation executes a gay man while singing hymns?  And this isn’t a black comedy?  No.  And the reason?  Sadly, horrifically, I could see this happening.  There are fringe groups out there that would do this.

RED STATE is scary without entering into any of the traditional horror movie tropes.  There’s nothing supernatural going on here.  The horror is in the people and what they do.

The movie enjoys a strong start.  The three teen characters are all believable, and the three actors who play them do an excellent job bringing these kids to life.  Kyle Gallner is especially memorable as the lead teen Jarod, and we saw him a few years back in THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009).

The dialogue here by Smith is also excellent.  It’s a hoot listening to these three guys, as they act and sound like real teens.  It sets the stage for the realism which permeates the entire film.

The second part of the film, where the boys are held hostage in the church, is also powerful.  The execution sequence is a riveting scene, and at this point, the sweaty palms meter was going full throttle.

The third act, where John Goodman’s Joseph Keenan leads an ATF raid against the compound is the least satisfying segment of the three, but it’s still very good.  It’s less effective because a standard action shoot-out just doesn’t pack the same wallop as scenes of teens being held hostage by maniac church members.

RED STATE features an outstanding cast.  In addition to Kyle Gallner’s fine performance as teen hostage Jarod, John Goodman also delivers a strong performance as ATF agent Joseph Keenan.  Goodman plays things realistically.  He’s not over the top, and as a result, he’s very believable.

Melissa Leo plays yet another crazy mother, this one a member of the Five Points Church.  Leo, you might remember, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a crazy obsessed mother in THE FIGHTER (2010).  Yeah, her role here is almost the same, but she’s so good at it!  You just want to slap her!

And Michael Parks absolutely steals the show as the creep preacher Abin Cooper.  The best part of his performance, and really, the whole movie, is that it’s not played over the top.  Parks doesn’t play Cooper like some psycho in the movies.  He plays him like a real preacher.  I believed this guy, and this is what made it so scary.

One of the reasons the movie works so well is the excellent script by Kevin Smith.  Not only does it tell a believable story, but it also takes some outlandish situations, dangles them in front of you, and makes you realize, you know what?  This isn’t as outlandish as you think!

Smith also adds some stylish direction.  The action scenes are well-handled, and the camerawork during some of the chase scenes where the teens try to escape from the church makes you feel like you’re running right alongside them.

The movie also manages to takes its time without seeming slow-paced.  There are long sequences of dialogue, which somehow result in making things more unsettling and suspenseful.  It’s like you’re listening to Cooper speaking, and he’s creeping you out, and he’s going on and on, and you just want to get away, and yet you can’t.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed RED STATE.  As long as you’re not expecting a happy night at the movies, you’ll want to check out RED STATE.

It’s non-supernatural  horror at its best.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

(NOTE: For a slightly different take on RED STATE, check out the 2011 review by L.L. Soares here)

Pickin’ the Carcass: THE CALLER (2011)

Posted in 2012, Madness, Michael Arruda Reviews, Murder!, Pickin' the Carcass, Time Travel with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2012 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda

In THE CALLER (2011), a recently divorced woman is terrorized by strange phone calls. No, it’s not a telemarketer on the line. It’s a crazed woman who’s somehow calling from a different decade.

Upon the heels of a messy divorce, Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevre) moves into a new apartment where she receives a phone call from a woman asking to speak to a man who supposedly lives there. Mary assumes it’s the wrong number, but when the woman, who says her name is Rose, identifies the number and the address of the apartment, Mary tells her that obviously the guy has moved out. The woman insists however that she’s right, that she just saw the man there that very day. At this point, Mary figures the woman is crazy and hangs up.

But the woman continues to call. For a while, Mary is sympathetic towards her, as Rose is sad and depressed, because the man she claims lives in the apartment had promised to marry her. But when she says she’s living in 1979, Mary again figures the woman has flipped her lid.

But then strange things begin to happen. Things Rose does in the past begin to affect things in the present, and it reaches the point where Mary can’t ignore the possibility that something bizarre is going on. She turns to her boyfriend John (Stephen Moyer) for help, and he thinks it might be her creepy ex-husband Steven (Ed Quinn) playing tricks on her, and Steven is creepy, and then some. He’s a big-time jerk and a creep who regularly ignores the restraining order against him and taunts and threatens Mary at his leisure.

Sure, it could be Steven, but when Rose goes “psycho” on Mary and threatens Mary’s friends, carrying out these threats in 1979, it changes Mary’s present. Mary realizes Rose and her threats are the real deal and suddenly she finds herself fighting for her life.

Yep, it’s SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992) meets THE TIME MACHINE (1960), and sadly, it sounds much better than it actually is, because in reality, THE CALLER isn’t a very good movie.

I had trouble with THE CALLER from the get-go. Its initial image is that of a big, black rotary phone, which in itself is a good thing because it immediately brought to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954). When the movie opens and Mary has an old-fashioned rotary phone in her apartment, I’m thinking, this is a period piece, but it’s not. It takes place in the present. I found this strange, and I couldn’t get past the fact that in this story, Mary hardly uses her cell phone, which raises several interesting questions.

For example, when things start to go wrong with Rose, why doesn’t Mary just disconnect her phone? She has a cell phone! Use it! Why doesn’t she use the cell phone when she’s in her apartment? We see her use it elsewhere. And who uses rotary phones anymore? Even if you have a land line, it’s not a rotary phone with a dial, but the one in this movie is, and there’s no mention that it’s some neat antique. It’s just there, in the apartment. This bugged me throughout the whole movie.

Also, even if Mary wanted to keep a land line, why doesn’t she just change her phone number? Or, here’s a concept: call the police!! Mary does none of these things, which seems like just an excuse to keep the story going. There were plenty of ways Mary could have gotten rid of Rose before all the SINGLE WHITE FEMALE psycho stuff started happening. There was some lazy writing in this one.

At first, I was intrigued by the concept of Mary receiving phone calls from someone living in 1979. I was eager to learn where this was going to go.

However, as the movie moves along, the explanations falter because there are a lot of holes in the plot. When Rose takes action in 1979, it affects Mary in 2011, but these actions and results don’t always make sense. If Rose were to murder someone in 1979, someone who Mary had already met in 2011, would they suddenly be dead in 2011 after Rose murdered them? I’m not sure if that’s how it would work, and this happens several times. It’s all so neat and convenient, it didn’t really ring true for me.

Plus, how is it that Rose can find these people who Mary knows now in 2011 so easily back in 1979? They’re still all living in the same area? Really?

Also, Rose’s voice on the phone sounds like she’s an old lady, like someone in her 70s. She’s supposed to be 41. This would make sense if Mary is speaking to Rose in 2011 because that’s the age she would be now, but initially, Rose says it’s 1979. Why would Rose lie? Again, lazy writing. I mean, at times, THE CALLER is on the verge of being a very clever movie, but each chance it gets at accomplishing this feat, it drops the ball.

The cast isn’t bad. I enjoyed Rachelle Lefevre in the lead role as Mary Kee. She had a very likeable personality, and she’s good-looking to boot! She would have been good enough to carry this movie had the story been better. One drawback to her performance is, for someone who’s being threatened, she makes Mary awfully passive.

The same can be said for the whole movie. There’s something very passive about it. It definitely lacks intensity.

Stephen Moyer is okay as John, Mary’s boyfriend, but he’s another passive, rather dull character. Ed Quinn does a nice job making Mary’s ex-husband Steven a complete creep and a jerk, but ultimately he’s stuck in a wasted subplot. Lorna Raver plays Rose, and we don’t get to see her until the end of the movie. She’s okay, but she’s certainly not a good enough villainess to carry this movie, so ultimately, she’s a disappointment.

The same can be said for both the directing and writing for this one. THE CALLER was directed by Matthew Parkhill, and although there are some nicely shot scenes, the movie as a whole lacks pacing and urgency. For a thriller, it’s awfully mild.

The screenplay by Sergio Casci has a lot of problems, mostly associated with its time shift/alternate universe plot, which really needs to make more sense. The threat against Mary also needs to be greater and more detailed. The story and the writing as a whole need to be much tighter.

I was interested in the premise of THE CALLER, and for most of the first half of this movie I was into it, but I expected better explanations and resolutions, and some thrills and chills along the way would have been most welcome. The ending is also a disappointment, as things wrap up way too easily.

As it stands, THE CALLER is a mediocre thriller that never gets into a groove or hits its stride. This is one call you’d best hang up on.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Pickin’ the Carcass: GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011)

Posted in 2012, Faux Documentaries, Ghost Movies, Haunted Houses, Michael Arruda Reviews, Paranormal, Pickin' the Carcass, Supernatural with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2012 by knifefighter

DVD Review by Michael Arruda


All I can say is the 21st century is proving to be a gold mine when it comes to “found footage.”

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) is yet another in the growing line of “recently discovered footage” movies with documentary-style filmmaking, hand-held camera usage, and people running around screaming “Oh my God!” and “Did you hear that?”  It fits right in with the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, and films like CHRONICLE (2012) and THE LAST EXORCISM (2010).

This is not necessarily a bad thing, because I tend to like this style of filmmaking.  It lends itself easily to eliciting scares.

The gimmick in GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is that a crew which films a reality TV show called “Grave Encounters,” a show about ghost specialists searching for ghosts inside houses and buildings, arranges to spend a night inside a former mental institution that is supposedly haunted.

The movie opens with the show’s producer introducing the footage, explaining how the show had held so much promise, and that all was great until the crew filmed the episode inside the institution.  It would be their final episode.  The producer goes on to say that the footage the audience is about to see is real, edited only for time.  And thus the movie begins.

Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson), the host of the show, is busy with his small crew of camera and sound operators setting up for their latest gig.  Preston interviews various people associated with the now-closed institution, and we see that Preston is not above paying people to give him phony answers.  This is not a team that really believes in what they’re doing.  Sure, they’d love to find evidence of real ghosts, but they don’t expect to.  For Lance, it’s all about creating an entertaining show.

Their resident ghost expert, Houston Gray (Mackenzie Gray), is also a fraud.  He’s seen on camera speaking about demons being present and how it’s not safe for them to be there too long, and as soon as the camera stops rolling, he laughs it up, wondering how good his performance was.

Preston and his crew are locked in at the institution for the night, and they’ve arranged for the doors to be unlocked at 6:30 am.  They also can’t escape through the windows since, like a prison, the windows are all barred.

As you would imagine, as the night goes on, strange things begin to happen.  Preston and his crew hear odd sounds, see mysterious apparitions, and eventually bad things begin to happen to them.  Very bad things.

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is not a bad little horror movie.  I liked it for the most part, but if there’s one glaring weakness with this film, it’s that feeling of déjà vu that we’ve seen this all before.  Because you know what?  We have.

It’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY in a mental institution.   We know where this story is going to go.  Plus, we’re told at the outset by the show’s producer that the crew doesn’t film any more episodes, and so the fate of our friendly TV crew never comes as much of a surprise.

To its credit, the movie does try to shake things up a bit.  It has some weird things going on with both the building itself—doors aren’t where they once were, for example—and with the conditions outside the building.  These ideas are welcome, but in the end, our TV crew is still hounded by ghosts, and their fate is nothing we haven’t seen before.

The movie works much better early on when things are creepy and eerie, and we’re not exactly sure what’s going on.  Once we start seeing the actual ghosts, it doesn’t work as well.  There are ghosts and shock scenes aplenty, but for some reason, these scenes just aren’t as scary as the subtle frights encountered earlier in the movie.  As a result, the movie drags somewhat during its second half.

One thing I did like was the movie does a good job making its case that if ever there were a place for unhappy ghosts to haunt, it’d be a former mental institution.  There are plenty of images in this movie showing what life was like for these mental patients, and because these patients were treated abysmally, it makes perfect sense that their pained spirits would be inside this building, still trying to make sense of it all, still striking back against people they viewed as their tormenters.

GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was written and directed by The Vicious Brothers. They sure have a nice name, but too bad this movie didn’t live up to it.  It’s not so vicious.

That being said, I did enjoy GRAVE ENCOUNTERS better than John Carpenter’s THE WARD (2011), the movie I reviewed in my previous PICKIN’ THE CARCASS column, also about a mental institution.  GRAVE ENCOUNTERS was scarier and did a better job showing the horrors of mental institutions from the past.

The cast is likeable enough.  Sean Rogerson is believable as the driven host of the show, Lance Preston.  He’s committed—heh, heh—to making the episode the best it can be, and once the ghostly hauntings begin, he’s the one who drives the rest of his crew to get this stuff on camera.

Mackenzie Gray also turns in a nice performance as the phony ghost expert Houston Gray.

For the most part, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is creepy and enjoyable, but it doesn’t possess enough originality to lift it above the pack of “found footage” movies, except perhaps for the validity of its mental institution ghosts.

A mildly satisfying haunt, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is okay, but it’s certainly nothing to be crazy about.


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda